Back-to-school happened over a month ago, but now that it finally feels like fall, that means back-to-cooking, and back-to-cooking-club! The EHS (Amy's school) Cooking Club had its first meeting this week and used this recipe from Allrecipes.com to make hot, fresh, flaky apple turnovers. An autumn classic in about an hour!
Oktoberfest Beer Cookies
Oom pah pah! This weekend marked the official start of Oktoberfest, the German harvest (and beer) festival. Yes, it sounds like it should be held in October, but that's because the first one was. The original Oktoberfest, held in 1810, celebrated the wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince. It must have been some wedding, because the celebration became an annual tradition, and was prolonged to start in mid-September to ensure better weather. Since we are unable to pick up and fly to Munich for a party, we feel especially fortunate that our friends, the Zs, have an annual Oktoberfest right here in Connecticut.
Creamed butter and sugar
Some of the other ingredients
The Zs are great cooks, which you can tell when you read the menu. They offered partygoers such as ourselves a feast of traditional German goodies like sweet onion dip, homemade soft pretzels, grilled vegetables, bratwurst with sauerkraut, baked ham, potato salad and cooked red cabbage. Many of the guests brought dessert, and that's where our Oktoberfest Beer Cookies come in (although people were eating them well before dessert).
The beer and honey is almost reduced
In the spirit of the day, we decided to try making cookies with beer. We found an interesting recipe on Food Network and made our cookies with Shocktop Belgian White. This particular beer has flavors of coriander and orange peel, so these same ingredients are added to the batter. These not-too-sweet beer-in-cookie-form treats were crisp on the outside with a cakey inside texture. We didn't bother with icing but instead used some of the honey-beer reduction as a light glaze. Also, you will note there is no salt in the recipe; the beer has some in it and adding some will make them too salty.
Tablespoons of batter staggered on parchment-lined sheets
Surely, you could experiment with different beer flavors and spices and get some amazing results. If you do, do let us know with a comment!
Oktoberfest Beer Cookies
(adapted from Food Network's White Beer Cookies, makes about 3 dozen cookies)
2 12-ounce bottles beer (we used Shocktop Belgian White)
5 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 drops orange oil
1 1/2 tablespoons dried Valencia orange peel (or zest of one medium orange)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Place beer and honey in a medium saucepan and allow to reduce over medium heat until there's about 1/2 cup left (this can take a while, so be patient; you'll know it's about there when the mixture is extremely foamy like in the picture above). Allow the reduction to cool to room temperature. While it is cooking, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (we do this in a stand mixer). Add and completely incorporate the egg. Then add the vanilla, orange oil, orange peel, coriander, and 1/3 cup of the cooled beer reduction. Blend thoroughly. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda, then slowly add these dry ingredients to the batter. Preheat oven to 350 F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment-lined sheets without crowding (about 12 per sheet is good). Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer to wire racks to cool. Drizzle with remaining beer reduction.
Baked and glazed!
There's a small restaurant chain of fine dining restaurants in the Greater Hartford area known as the Max Restaurant Group. One thing they are particularly known for are their summertime "Chef to Farm" dinners, a series of events that take place on the grounds of local farms. As far as the locavore movement, it can't get any more local than that, right? The chef designs a menu around the freshest produce available from that farm's current harvest and adds ingredients also sourced locally, such as meat, dairy and seafood. Diners enjoy their meal under a large tent set up with communal tables covered in white linen, with candlelight and music to add to the ambience.
Chickens roam around the barn
But the one we attended last week was different, experimental, a pop up restaurant on Sub Edge Farm in Farmington (hence the "Crop Up Pop Up" theme). Not a tasting, but a menu of three courses with options chosen by each diner on site and a cash bar. Yes, Chef Scott Miller is an ambitious guy.
Chilled Nectarine Bisque
pickled cherries, fried ginger, creme fraiche
GourmAvian Farms Confit Chicken Wings
celeriac hummus, red hot carrots
Smoked Pineland Beef Strip Loan
duck fat poached potatoes, sorrel, braised beef cheeks, marrow bordelaise
Grilled North Atlantic Lobster
poached mussel and sun gold tomato salad, lemony greens, tomalley vinaigrette
Oh, pasta. Why do we love you so? That's right...it's because you're so easy to make and so versatile. We can take almost any ingredient and with it, turn you into a stunningly simple meal. And, there's always some of you in our pantry. Plus, you have carbs. And we love carbs. (Sorry, carb-haters.) (Not really.)
Seriously, though. The two dishes featured here make the most out of farm- or garden-fresh ingredients and they can be prepped in the time it takes to boil the pasta water. It doesn't get fresher or easier than that!
Our first "simple end-of-summer pasta" is our take on Caprese salad, but in pasta form. It was inspired by a cheese made by Meadowstone Farm* of Brooklyn, CT, and a pasta from Meriano's Bake Shoppe in Madison, CT, which is why we are calling it "Connecticut Caprese Pasta." Stracciatella (Italian for "little shreds") is fresh mozzarella that has been shredded then mixed with fresh cream. It's soft, delicate, and delightfully creamy. In this recipe, we mixed Meriano's tomato-basil infused linguine with Meadowstone's cheese, and our own chopped basil and chopped garden tomatoes. Voila! Dinner in about 15 minutes. Using the tomato-basil pasta added so much flavor, so try it if you can.
Connecticut Caprese Pasta
1 pound pasta (we used tomato-basil linguine)
2 cups chopped garden tomatoes
8-10 basil leaves
1 package stracciatella cheese (or burrata or fresh mozzarella chopped into bite-sized pieces)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Set water over heat to boil pasta. While it is getting hot, chop tomatoes and basil; set aside. When water is boiling, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta when ready and fold in chopped tomatoes and basil. Then fold in the cheese and season to taste.
*Also, check out this gorgeous salad we made with Meadowstone Farm's burrata.
Our second "simple end-of-summer pasta" is one we made out of sheer laziness. We looked around one weeknight shortly after school began and realized that it was dinner time and we didn't have much to work with. A yellow squash donated to us by the neighbors (thanks, Whits), some sliced prosciutto from a Portuguese shop brought over by Amy's mom, some shredded parmesan that was in the cheese drawer, and whatever was in our garden. Okay, maybe it was time to go grocery shopping. And, this is probably why we have cats and not kids. But we did have pasta in the pantry (see above), so, we give you our strange little take on alfredo:
School Just Started Summer Squash Pasta
1 pound pasta (we used thick spaghetti)
1 tablespoon bacon grease (don't judge us) (use olive oil if you must)
1 yellow squash (or zucchini), cut into "batons"
4-6 slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips
6-10 cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup half and half (or milk, or light cream, some dairy product)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Set water over heat to boil pasta. While it is getting hot, heat bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Add squash, prosciutto, tomatoes and garlic, and cook until tender and fragrant. Add parsley and chicken broth, and cook 3-4 minutes. Add half and half and allow to simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add parmesan and cook, stirring thoroughly, until slightly thickened. Cook pasta according to package directions, and drain. Toss pasta with sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.
We live about 15 minutes from the Coventry Regional Farmers Market, which is held every Sunday from June through October on the Nathan Hale Homestead. Each week features around 75 vendors featuring the freshest local produce, meats, dairy products (hollah cheeses!), breads, artisan foods, crafts and more. Chefs do demonstrations, breweries and wineries offer tastings, and often, there's a local band supplying the background jams. It's awesome. In their own words, "It's like a country fair every Sunday." Here are some photos from our last few visits. We hope they will entice you into going, and perhaps we'll see you there! (Note: This year is the last of the CRFM as it has been, but not to worry, the town of Coventry is taking it over and promises to keep it going - hooray!)
Basket of Fresh Garlic
Gladiolas and Picklin' Cukes
Ingredients for Mystic Oyster Shooters
A Peck of Picked Peppers
Burgundy, Golden and Green Beans
Various Shades of Eggplant
Want Some Honey, Honey?
Ripe Red Raspberries
Boxes of Onions
A Beet Shelf
Giant Pretzels from Hartford Baking Co.
Let it be known that neither of us is a real fan of pasta salad. Which is why we both found ourselves happily surprised when we tried our sister-in-law's version during our annual visit to New Jersey. M.'s colorful rainbow mix of fresh vegetables coupled with a slightly sweetened mayonnaise made this a perfect pasta salad, one we enjoyed enough to make for a potluck the very next weekend. It's fresh, it's easy, and it feeds a crowd.
Feel free to change your pasta shape - M. uses ditalini, but we prefer the classic elbows.
M.'s Perfect Pasta Salad
(serves 10-12 as a side dish)
1 pound pasta
1 red pepper, cleaned and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow pepper, cleaned and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 red onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise, to taste
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Boil water and prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside to cool. Mix all vegetables (peppers, carrots, celery, onions) and parsley together in a large bowl, then add cooled pasta. Fold in mayonnaise and sugar, then season with salt and pepper to taste.